One Is A Lonely Number

Understood. Always. In special religious events [my focus for today] the center light, the main focus, is either one or two. For a Baptism it’s the one being baptized. For the wedding it’s the couple.

Today, though, I read of a wedding where the sister of the bride was included in the marriages vows. Not an endorsement of polygamy. No, not for a breath. The bride’s sister has Down Syndrome; she is precious to both families. The sister was included with the groom promising to support and care for the sister. And a promise if ever necessary to continue that care.

The sister was dressed in white…and dry eyes were not to be found.

I understand a marriage to be covenantal. That is an agreement between at least two people they will give their fullest for the good of the relationship. In this instance, the covenant included the sister, for caring and support. A special definition of relationship, a promise made with and before God.

I then thought. Have shared before in my own tradition, a member of a German Congregational Church in Portland, Oregon, the tradition was for the godparents to bring the infant forward for baptism. My father said, “I will take that responsibility.” My mother responded, “Henry! You need to know in baptism you are making a vow you will attend church and support Mark’s religious development.” He nodded and I’m told the godparents were not rankled. At least they never said word one about that, but always marked the day of my baptism with a card.

More in the thought. I’m sure it wasn’t perfect, although intent has favor. Whenever I celebrated the baptism, if there were other family children gathered, I would take a moment and speak to them about their new brother and sister and tell them they are important, not to be forgotten or neglected. And would give each of them a gift. No less, we’d gift the morning newspaper to the parents, because their child was baptized in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But, also into the swirling reality of the current day, in which their child would live and grow. God and Blessing and Life…not separated. The reality of whole family and current world seemed to be helpful.

And in weddings, if first weddings and parents of bride and groom were present, I would speak to them and ask them to support their daughter or son in their journey as husband and wife. And if second or third weddings, I would ask step-children or even adult step-children for their support.

Why all this? Because, maybe you’re not a stranger to this, as most of my life is lived, I’m finding particular stories or events unfolding a very large tapestry in which I recall moments. For instance, one of my dearest friends reminded me this week, when they brought their son to baptism well distanced from their home, the four of us together—because a pastor makes a vow, too—is part of their gladness. Their son is well into his 20’s now…and for them to recall. That unto itself is so very special.

Hopefully you, too, will recall your previous important moments and realize you were not singing a solo. And, no less hopefully, you’ll never have to.

Here’s the inspiring link:

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/good-news/groom-exchanges-vows-with-brides-sister-who-has-down-syndrome-i-promise-to-look-out-for-you/ar-AAtmyES?li=AAk6ORB&ocid=spartandhp

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Ever Pray For Victory?

I’m sure the request was genuine, heartfelt and urgent. On the eve of game 5 between the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals, no ambiguity, “Mark, I’m praying for the Cubs to win; will you do the same?”

Turns out religion did have a relationship to last night’s game [Be sure, I’d write this even if the Cubs lost!] The Nationals’ priest blessed ALL the National players’ bats. And, evidently years ago Dusty Baker, when managing the Cubs, took “holy water” and sprinkled it over the Wrigley Field infield. I don’t believe for a moment God was against either gesture, even though in both instances the blessings didn’t bring victory.

Brings back the memory of the last game I pitched, shortly after heading for New Haven and seminary. The game was in Battle Creek, Michigan. My Portland semi-professional baseball team played a semi-final national championship series game against a team from Marietta, Georgia. Before I threw my first pitch, my manager, Milo Meskel [God rest his soul.] said, “Well, Mark, this will be interesting. Evidently the home plate umpire knew you were heading to Yale after the game to attend their seminary.”

I thought, so what? Milo then said, “The interest is the Georgia pitcher is a Southern Baptist Preacher.”

I smiled, without comment, which is surprising.

But. I hoped the umpire wasn’t Southern Baptist!

Now, about praying and competing. All I can do is share my approach to that, and I explained to my prayer petitioning friend, “I never pray for victory; I only pray for effort. That I will give my fullest, no matter what.”

Because I believe THAT’S the purpose of prayer…that God and I are, as I’ll say this Sunday, “On Holy Ground.” Will explain, maybe, after Sunday.

In any account, God is not indifferent. But God doesn’t throw a slider, slide, or hit with the bases empty or loaded. Why? Because you and I are the players and God’s the HOLY ONE who is with us. In my prayer I’m only petitioning that our partnership doesn’t hinge on winning or losing.

Still, GO CUBS!!!

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Words Matter

Some people, probably more generous than factual, say I am a wordsmith. For whatever truth held there, the cause of such is Miss Agnes Carter, my 8th grade teacher at Vernon Grade School, Portland, Oregon, 2nd floor corner room overlooking Alberta Park. Can, along with my many 8th grade classmates [circa 1953-54], still rip off the being and linking verbs and every preposition. And, when I ask someone how they are and they answer, “I’m doing good,” I respond with a smile, “I hope you are doing it well.”

In the genesis of writing, in full and appreciative benefit to professors and teachers, like Dr. Louis Ruotolo [God rest his soul.], Mary Louise Roberson and James Thayer and the editing gifts of Al Day and Slim Randles, and my wife, Diane, I have learned a few things.

Which have not become inappropriate or untimely. Maybe even more necessary today.

Goes like this:

I do my best to never use these words: “unless,” “should” and “just.”

Because? Because I eschew [chew on that for a moment!] to speak to anyone, or someone in particular and tell them my opinion/takes are better. Or, at least they need to be subjected to what I think.

No.

Conversation is for learning not subjugating. The best way to do that…and I try earnestly…is to begin, “You have asked what I think…this is only what I think…you have your own thoughts.” That means how important it is to speak descriptively and not prescriptively. And to know the best communication is when the ratio of two ears and one mouth is operative.

More. From your point of view, try to stay away from the word, “just.” Because when you say “just” you minimize your own self. You really do. “I just think…” That’s weak, friends, weak.

I also—one more take hitting me—do everything I can to be active when I speak and write. Which means, essentially, stay away from participles. For instance, it’s one thing to say, “I was talking to…about…” And this: “I talked to her about this.”

Now.

Why?

Because language is important, even crucial. Language can strengthen…or if it’s prescriptive, seek to control relationships.

I believe in today’s world…the way in which government happens, the way in which church leaders believe to get help is a sign of weakness [it’s not, boys and girls; it’s simply autocratic], the way in which churches think their only task is to take care of themselves…all means a future that will not require sunglasses.

Just sayin’.

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Ever Play The Blame Game?

My father, God bless and grace his soul in eternal peace, had some trouble. As his son, that DNA has not escaped me. It is in the decision of what to retain and what to jettison? And, too often, when the “wrong” happens to us, we are never blessed by amnesia.

That is, when something goes awry and we know whom to blame, even with subsequent dialogue, can we drop it? I’m not sure. More often, not. Maybe it’s a psychological reality none of us is stranger to.

Why say this?

Because it’s becoming more and more apparent to me—that’s double-apparent—our society is more into blaming than anything else. Whom can we blame today for our “unhappenstances?”

Yesterday it hit me. I’ve never hidden I am a Cubs fan. That’s not accidental because in 1966 when I began my ministry with Fred Trost and Herb Davis, not far from Wrigley Field, Fred and I use to have “theological seminars in the afternoon” at Wrigley Field. Of course, we’d stop to get a “#7 hamburger heavy on the mayo” at Franksville.

Well, yesterday with two outs the Washington Nationals hitter lofted [not screamed or lined but lofted] a fly ball to left field. Kyle Schwarber the Cubs’ left-fielder didn’t run, he sauntered to the ball, it hit off his glove, kicked it even more away from him, with the Nationals’ player on third base. He scored on the next pitch.

I could only imagine a 1-0 Cubs loss and Schwarber haunted forever…yes, it reminds me of Bachman sitting in the left field stands, taking a fly ball away from the Cubs.

Didn’t turn out that way. The Cubs won, 2-1.

But, back to my point: the blame game.

We can do that. The trigger point was for me in a recent discussion about Trump. Ah, never neutral ground there. What surprised me, though, was the Trump supporters offered point after point on why Obama was hopeless, and is a primary cause to the troubles in our country.

Will they ever move on? Or, at least, without finding something wrong today that causes tomorrow’s untowardness?

I cannot answer for you. But, for me, because I, too, can remember the less than flattering moments. Or, more precisely, when I have been told I am too old to do ministry, or help churches in an area of stewardship [read that, increasing revenue], I am not pleased. To wit, I don’t think for a breath that everything about me is unworthy.

My answer? Each must craft that answer. For me, and I told them last Sunday, my congregation [And I do take the “my” seriously and as responsibly as I can] is a “place” that is more into being genuine and caring and connecting than playing any blame game. Ah, would it be. Would it be there is some “place” in each of our lives, when the music of the present moment is more hearable and helpful than the clanging noise of a messy past. You think?

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When Is When?

No event…filled with light or smothered with foreboding darkness…lacks political foci, even if tangential. But life needs to be more than politics. More than making sure popularity does not suppress integrity.

Such will unfold and spin and twist in the wind from this day to the next. Name it. Irma and Harvey and Maria. Rat-a-tat-tat bullets from the 32nd floor. The watch said 9 minutes. The over four hundred and those killed? Lives changed and ended forever. The tick of the watch is not a bell of joy.

Some say this is not the time for full discussion upon gun control. Others say, it wasn’t the time for 59 people to die. When is When?

In it all, carrying ten suitcases into one room? Of course, nothing is as perfect as looking back…the hindsight is better than 20/20, maybe 20/15.

Hindsight? No thank you.

Lives were lost. I just clicked through 19 pictures and briefs noting “this is who this dead person was” and it more than tugged my heart. It ripped it. Horrific? That’s a mild reaction.

Yes, people are praying and loving. I’m praying and loving. For the legions of friends who now suffer on their own. Have mentioned them, let me add Peter Jurney, university classmate. And from a note today, Christie Newbill Brown is slipping in her struggle against the inoperable brain tumor. Our nephew Brian has his CT scan on October 11.

There needs to be more than prayer and love is to me the “take.” What can each of us DO about it? Perhaps it is to gather with family and ask, “How are we doing? Not focused upon LV. But, focused upon us?”

Perhaps it is to gather with our most meaningful community and visit with each other, and ask, what can we do, what steps can we take—not mentally but physically—to bring some comfort and healing and peace?

Will be doing that this Sunday morning with my congregation in Lexington, Texas. To listen for what church means today and how people can be graced by our presence. This is not theological or preachy. Down to the deepest…finding peace and sharing it…understanding more than whining…clears it to me: no time is there greater need for a caring group than now…and in some cases…it will be the church. I know it’s in Lexington…and in trust and hope it’s with you…so being alone isn’t your only station in life.

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The Man From Mesquite by Peter Bauer

Peter Bauer, a clergy colleague, therapist, ordained in the United Church of Christ, Military Chaplain and from Portland, Oregon [didn’t know one another when growing up] has written for Huffington Post a reflection upon the Las Vegas horror and death. He’s given permission to share it in my blog posting. I appreciate the permission, Peter, and very much value your insight. Gratitude to you.

“The Man from Mesquite Was Not Discreet’ By Rev. Peter E. Bauer
10/02/2017 02:37 pm ET

Today, on this first day of October, this first Monday in October when the U.S. Supreme Court has convened for another judicial season, we are witnessing another mass shooting in our country. The Las Vegas shooting is the worst mass shooting in US history, eclipsing the Pulse Night club shooting in Orlando, FL last year.

Again, American citizens are feeling unnerved, numbed by the horrific expression of mass violence. The deceased assailant, Stephen Paddock has been described as isolative, a loner, professional gambler, an owner and manager of several apartment buildings, and someone who always kept the blinds down in his retirement community home in Mesquite, NV. One person observed that he was rather surly when she ran into him at the gym.

So here we have a guy who was retired, who liked to gamble and take in Las Vegas shows. So Far, so good. But the same guy brings in over ten rifles and automatic weapons into a Las Vegas resort hotel. How does that happen? Why didn’t anybody notice that something might not be right here?

The family members in Florida are saying that his behavior “was a great surprise, they didn’t see this coming.” The companion of Mr. Paddock is now out of the country and in the Philippines. Reports indicate that Mr. Paddock had several significant financial transactions take place just a few days before the shooting. Were these gambling debts? We don’t know.

Clearly, sitting in a high-rise hotel room and pointing rifles outside a window and firing into an estimated crowd of 22,000 people below is not normative behavior, it is sociopathic. There is no “I-Thou “(Martin Buber) in this type of transition. Rather, it is all “I-It “; I count, I must be in control, others can be eliminated.

Yes, this is cold, calculating evil at its very worst expression. During the coming days, we will hear all kinds of stories about the victims of this atrocity, those who were heroic and who tried to save others. We will also learn about all the funerals that will be held in Las Vegas, NV and elsewhere.

One of the hallmarks of sociopathic behavior is the absence of empathy. The lack of concern, and remorse regarding how other people feel and what they need and desire. For someone who exhibits this type of behavior, everyone and everything is to be used like a tool. When the usefulness of the tool has run its course, then the person is to be discarded with no afterthought.

We still don’t know that much about Mr. Paddock. We do know that his father was once on the FBI list of the ten most-wanted bank robbers in the country. Did he witness any expressions of empathy while he was growing up? Again, we don’t know.

What I do know, however, is that the citizens of our country need to rediscover again the power of empathy, the insight of realizing what other feel people feel and what is important to them. Our society is constantly exposing us to a lot of violence, gratuitous violence, and yes, over time, we get desensitized to the carnage and when that happens our very souls become corroded.

We need to discover again what it means to be human, what it means to see the sacred reflected in the eyes and life of another human being. We need to affirm that charity and love are more powerful than hate and killing.

Our very lives, our very country depends upon it.

May it be so.

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Maybe I Should Chew Soap

Maybe I should chew soap…even swallow some…not sure. Maybe I should write this on my knees. No, that would be disingenuous.

The memory, though, thanks be to God, is slowly being erased to nothingness. It came back this morning, though, in reading how fractured our country is. Of course. Different “takes” on kneeling or sitting or raising fists or standing or putting hand on heart during the national anthem. Will leave that for another day, although it occurs to me, so very few are willing to engage in conversations with adversaries that ever go below the surface…that is, what is REALLY at stake here? I trust you can engage in that.

What strikes me is a memory of serving a church when a modest percentage of the congregation could not have disagreed more with me when it comes to theology. Most of you know I am not a middle-road guy when it comes to what I follow and believe, hopefully more often than not, in my walking the human journey.

In one congregation a member taped my class on the United Church of Christ Statement of Faith…and then the next night gathered with folk of the recorder’s kindred beliefs, to find why they wanted to claim my heresies. As you can appreciate, not fun. Yes, it did happen. They tried to keep silence, but when a member called me to complain about the UCC “claiming homosexuality a sin” I learned another member of that church put in all 1,000 member addresses to a conservative religious journal, as if it was “official doctrine” of our denomination. I knew who did that, called the member, who admitted same. He said, “I was told by Jesus to do that.” The conversation, not known for its length but depth [in my view] ended up having the mailing list expunged that afternoon.

The reason that popped this morning is I sent my sermon topic for next Sunday to the congregation where I’m called to be preacher and pastoral care guy, and a member wrote, “I won’t miss it!”

Ah, how good that feels. To know appreciation has not atrophied. To know this very special new congregation gathers…cares…refuses to close their ears and hearts…and cares for one another. I told them yesterday, as my wont, is to give them a “middle name.” And shared, “Your middle name is GENUINE.” Learned a new couple visited yesterday affirmed, “Yes, he’s right. We can tell you all are genuine.”

So. A Monday morning. Time to read about having authority and not being a scribe. Time to reflect upon what it means to be created in God’s image, and to learn that religious truth is always descriptive and not prescriptive.

And. To think. Tomorrow I head to Portland…and on Wednesday and Thursday Zorba and I see about catching Fall Chinook Salmon on Tillamook Bay. Hmmmm….maybe another story or two that can be shared???

God bless us, whether we stand or sit or kneel…God bless us. Please.

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